I hear a lot about the “day school bubble,” that our children live life disconnected from the real world. It’s an argument I don’t buy. In the world we live in today, it’s impossible to erect a wall high enough or thick enough to keep out external influences. Between the media, internet, shopping malls, and all the other public spaces we inhabit, our children cannot help but encounter the “real world.”
However, let’s say we go with the argument for a minute. Day school critics say that our students are so disconnected from religious and ethnic diversity that they will not be prepared to navigate the multicultural world beyond the bubble.
A Grade 10 student once gave a most insightful response to this false assumption. He said, “when I get to the university, my day school education will have given me such a strong sense of who I am as a Jew that I will be able to contribute to that diversity.”
A day school education immerses children in the texts, values, culture, and traditions of our people so that our children learn to speak with a Jewish voice. They learn not just about the survival of the fittest but about taking care of the orphan, stranger and widow. They learn not only about individual rights and freedoms but also about duty to society, responsibility to a community, and an obligation to hear the call of others. They learn Hamlet’s words, “to be or not to be,” but they also learn how important it is to grapple with how to be and how not to be. They learn that when they stand for something unique, they make the biggest impact on the world around them.
This is the message that God gives Avraham when God commands him to uproot himself from Ur Casdim and go to the Land of Canaan. God doesn’t simply say, “go, leave your homeland.” God says, “lech l’cha,” which the Zohar translates to mean “go towards yourself and leave your homeland.” In other words, the command to go to Canaan isn’t just an outward journey that can be tracked on a map. It’s an inward journey as well. It’s a journey to understand who he is and who he is meant to be. To transform the world, God says to Avraham, one must stand for something. That is how Avraham will bring blessing to the world.
The same is true today for us, the descendants of Avraham. Many Jews try so hard to fit in that they forget that they can do the most good by retaining some measure of difference. The beauty of a day school education is that it gives students pride and dignity in the power of difference.
Research shows that the more years children spend in Jewish education, the stronger is their Jewish identity, the deeper their religious commitment, the stronger their desire for affiliation with other Jews, the greater their support for Jewish causes and Israel. Further, every year of Jewish education that takes place after bar or bat mitzvah is worth three or more years of anything that takes place earlier because the teenage years are so vital for identity formation.
At TanenbaumCHAT we help our students develop deep roots in both Jewish tradition and western culture. The latter helps them carry the blessings of the former into the world and make a unique, meaningful, and lasting contribution.